I have spent most of the last week in the United States – in Raleigh, North Carolina to be exact. It brings home to me the many differences between two cultures that, in other ways, are very similar: from the price of fuel to the availability of public transport; from the car culture to the size of the food portions.
All of these have been discussed many times by many people. It is, however, the American approach to customer service that is the constant surprise to me. The whole “Hi, how ya doin’ today?” in all its smiling insincerity is always the biggest shock upon landing almost anywhere in North America. It really is a delight.
I don’t think it’s my British cynicism that allows me to acknowledge that it’s not really meant – it’s taught and it’s expected. So what? It’s so much nicer than the grumbled, stumbled approach in many shops in the UK. Any kind of service from the rental car place to the hotel, from Starbucks to the bar was from somebody smiling with a confident and welcome approach to their job. For my tastes it is, sometimes, a little too much but I can’t help and wish that a little more of this faux-friendliness made its way into shops in London.
And while on the subject of customer service, I would be surprised if there are many around these parts that have not experienced the appalling service of parcel delivery providers this Christmas. My own gripe was is with the inability of the Royal Mail to be able to cope with the increase in parcels. My local postman (who is a very friendly guy, by the way) delivers a card when the parcel doesn’t fit the letter box. The sorting office need some time to process that. Currently, that seems to be 48 hours. They only open for collections from 8am to 1pm (how useful is that to anybody who has a job to commute to in London?). For several weeks the Saturday morning queue has been so long as to be down round the block. Friday morning’s queue was equally long and at 12.45 nobody else was allowed to join the queue – which lead to several arguments along the lines of “I was here before One and this is the last day to get my parcel”. The response, from the lady with the road cones to stop more people joining the queue, was typical of the can-do helpful attitude around here,
“What do you expect me to do about it?”